Talking with Tim

Looking back on 31 years at Ohio Farmer

It was extremely fitting that former Ohio Farmer Editor Tim White was recently inducted into the Ohio Agricultural Hall of Fame. He joins other big names in agriculture this year, including Jack Fisher, Dick Isler and Keith Smith.

I and longtime Ohio Farmer writer Gail Keck were certainly not going to miss this celebration and give Tim a big you-so-deserve-this hug.

Tim lives in Lancaster, but his footprints are all over this state. He started at Ohio Farmer in 1978, left to work on other publications in 1984 and then returned to the magazine in 1991. It’s been a little over a year since Tim concluded a 31-year career with Ohio Farmer. He’s now semi-retired; however, he views it more as a sabbatical. Don’t be surprised to see Tim’s byline in Ohio Farmer again, as he’s agreed to be an occasional freelancer.

In regards to the magazine, he says he misses the deadlines the most and also the least. “We need them to get the job done, but in the meantime, they can cause some anguish,” he says.

The avid golfer has been using the extra time out on the course — playing or caddying. He’s also been traveling, organizing the farm and “doing all those things I have been needing to do,” he says.

His family continues to be his focus, and his wife, Kathy, and kids Joe, Ginny and Allie, were all at the ceremony beaming with pride. Tim says his family continues to make him proud.

I asked Tim about his on-the-job experiences and his time with Ohio Farmer.

What is one of your most interesting interviews?
Honestly I believe everyone has a story, and I have always enjoyed stories. A few most interesting: Ralph Dull near Springfield had engineered a whole host of energy-saving devices; Darroll Dickinson brought longhorn cattle to Ohio; and Roger Wolf built mounds to portray erosion. They were all good stories.

What’s a time that really surprised you?

I interviewed Max and Mila Schlichter about raising Buckeye quarterback Art Schlichter on the farm near Bloomingburg. We had some of Art’s favorite cake as a treat. I came away with a story about an all-American kid and in no way foresaw the gambling fall he would take.

An occasion when maybe you were a little scared (or concerned for your safety)?
I don’t like heights, but I like the photos you get from up on grain legs and barn roofs. I was at the Kidron Auction taking photos of the Amish buggies in the rain one auction day. I was scrambling around the roof of the barn and noticed that the lightning was getting stronger and closer. And then I realized the cables I was holding onto and walking along were lightning rods. I quickly dismounted.

What do you think is the most pressing issue in the eyes of today’s farmers, and what was it when you first started your career?

When I started, a huge grain surplus was building on U.S. farms, and the export markets weren’t there to buy it. Farmers had gone in debt to produce grain, and some were in financial trouble. Now, the export markets have opened up, thanks to trade agreements and farmer-funded market development. Farmers today must hang onto the new markets they have built. They must cultivate consumer trust. And they must improve and enhance their production base. Healthy soil is our future.

The best compliment you ever got?
I followed Dispatch legend Bill Zipf. So daily one of Bill’s former colleagues would shout across the newsroom, “White, you’ll never be another Bill Zipf.” As if anyone ever could. Also, I think I felt complimented anytime a farmer told me that his wife liked the story I wrote.

An occasion when you screwed up and how did you fix it?
I invited a politician to send me a letter describing his complaint with my editorial. He sent me a real scorcher that said not nice things about the editor who wrote the story. I called him and told him I was sorry, but we just didn’t have space this month.

One of the biggest characters (funny, quirky, inventive, etc.) you’ve met because of your job and why?
We all know Ed Johnson was the biggest character Ohio ag may have ever had. We once went to lunch for an interview and afterwards Ed got up to go to the rest-room. The gent at the table next to me said, “Son, I don’t know what that fellow is selling, but if I was you, I would buy it.”

One of the best decisions you’ve ever made, covering (or not covering) an issue?
The decision to support the Conservation Farm Family Award was a good one.

Where do you see agriculture in 10 years?
The next 10 years for Ohio farmers will be focused on making sure the industry’s footprint is sustainable. Bottom line will drive decisions. Monitoring will continue to get more precise as we make sure nutrients end up as plant cells, not as lost runoff. Genetics will continue to drive production higher. Market access is critical.

What do you feel is important that we are (or aren’t) doing as an industry?
The most important development in my era may be the checkoff funds. California ag benefited from marketing orders. The concept has blossomed in the Midwest. Also, new uses for consumption of Ohio’s ag production are critical for grain demand. We must avoid the onslaught of stored grain that weighed on the industry in the 1980s.

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